May 9, 2006
ATLANTA – It wouldn’t be out of the ordinary for a Georgia Tech women’s tennis player to hear statements such as, “You play with one of the best tennis players,” or “You practice against the No. 1 player, right?” or even, “You’re playing against a future pro!”
After all, sophomore All-American Kristi Miller has been the top-ranked singles player in the nation, according to the last five collegiate tennis rankings, spanning two months.
And it’s not out of the ordinary for collegiate players, before they arrive at college, to have practiced with people that now appear on the WTA (Women’s Tennis Association) or ATP (Association of Tennis Professionals) Tours.
Kelly Anderson, a senior on the Yellow Jackets’ women’s tennis team, is no different. She hit with Maria Sharapova when the girl was in her early teens–before she made “made it big,” says Anderson.
But after this summer, Anderson won’t have to say that she “played against them before they made it big.” The 2003 ACC Rookie of the Year has been given the opportunity to play with one of the top females ever. Not just in the nation, but the world.
After her collegiate career concludes at the end of May, Anderson will make her way to Paris, France, where she will join her brother, Roger, a member of the Georgia Tech men’s tennis team from 2000-03, to serve as a hitting partner for one of the all-time greats, Martina Navratilova, for the French Open, the DFS Classic in Birmingham, England, and the Hastings Direct International Championships in Eastbourne, England before concluding her trip at Wimbledon.
“After we finished ACC’s (where Georgia Tech captured its second conference championship in as many years), my brother called me and said that he had an opportunity for me, and I needed to decide that night if I wanted to do it because he had to let her know immediately,” said Anderson.
Another player that had originally agreed to serve as a hitting partner backed out at the last minute, and when asked if Roger knew of someone that could fill the role, he pointed out that Kelly played in college.
Then, according to Anderson, Navratilova responded with, “why didn’t we think of that earlier?”
Anderson had planned on doing something different for her final summer session as a collegiate athlete, wanting to work camps at nearby Berry College, but knew that two Grand Slam events, along with two more WTA Tour tournaments, would be too good to pass up.
“I’ll withdraw my camp application and I’ll do it,” Anderson told her brother. “I didn’t ask anyone. I just said yes, because I knew that it was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” she added.
While she doesn’t know all of the details of her exciting summer trip, Anderson has an idea of what she will experience because her brother has been working with Navratilova since last August.
“He’s been serving as her hitting partner, and also sort of managing her, organizing flights and hotels and such,” said Anderson. “Basically, he’s doing whatever she needs him to do, and I think that I’ll basically help with that. And then when she and her doubles partner Liezel (Huber, another South African) need a pair to practice against, my brother and I will team up against them.”
Navratilova has won over 1400 singles and 600 doubles matches in her career, and holds the record for most singles titles in a career, with 167. She has been ranked No. 1 in both singles and doubles, and has also won each of the four Grand Slam singles titles.
“She’s probably the best tennis player of all-time,” said Anderson. “And I have the type of game that she plays. I am a serve-and-volleyer, and she’s the best serve-and-volleyer in the world. So I’m doing this partly because I want to pick her brain.”
Meanwhile, the senior will continue to train with her current team, the sixth-ranked Georgia Tech Yellow Jackets, who begin NCAA Tournament play this weekend when they host the first and second rounds May 12-13. And she knows that while they may not be the top singles and/or doubles player in the world, her opponents and teammates will challenge her plenty in the coming weeks.
“Kristi will be at that level someday,” says Anderson. “And Amber Liu (of Stanford) could play at that level too.”
Anderson has practiced against Miller on numerous occasions over the last two seasons, and while she may not have the opportunity to meet Liu, also a senior, in singles play, the two could face each other one last time in doubles…but only if the two teams advance to the national championship match.
And how much better could this season get for Anderson, than if she could win against a future tennis pro who is currently one of the top collegiate players in the country, help her team to a national championship, and then go on to practice with the best tennis player in the world?
“I’m just really, really excited,” she says.